The world is a mess. Media deciding on our behalf what is and what isn’t ‘fake news’. Front page headlines screaming ‘Crush The Saboteurs’. Your every move online tracked and marketed by faceless corporations. As reality creeps ever nearer to the plot of George Orwell’s classic 1984, a few dissenting voices are beginning to be heard. Jockeying for position now are Manchester-via-Doncaster’s The Blinders, whose debut, Columbia, arrives with perfect timing. Loosely based on that influential novel, it uses it as a springboard into a suitably paranoid world.
Live opener ‘Gotta Get Through’ is the entry point to the album too, its scuzzy, explosive guitar riff vying with a pounding drum beat and grinding bassline. It is a take-no-prisoners onslaught of sound that lays the groundwork for much that follows. The following ‘L’etat C’est Moi’ broods and crunches, existing in the same disgruntled universe as the likes of Shame but without the sly wit and instead down a far heavier path. Like much of Columbia, it takes aim at the established order (“I say jump, you say how high”) with no love for what it finds. Paranoia drips through ‘Where No Man Comes’, (“You’re never gonna escape from that watching eye”), as does ‘I Can’t Breathe Blues’ with its themes of police brutality and oppression. The band find 1984 fertile territory for fierce parallels with the real modern world, in a way that carries enough cleverness to overcome any cliche.
Clearly in thrall to their post-punk ancestors, (‘Hate Song’ in particular paying homage to Joy Division), the record carries more than a hint of more recent bands such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and, more obviously, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. ‘Ballad Of Winston Smith’ being so close to the melody of the latter’s ‘Billabong Valley’, that it must be a deliberate love letter. However, they are far more than one-trick ponies, with stomping glam rock beats sitting next to oppressive stream-of-consciousness diatribes such as ‘Free The Slave’. It all adds to a heavy mood, an example of musical world-building that few bands attempt, let alone pull off so well on a debut album.
It is in the chest-beating, riotous moments like ‘Et Tu’ that The Blinders hit the sweet spot, recorded tracks carrying the same ferocity and visceral quality that the band are famous for in live shows. Darker than most of their contemporaries, they are simmering here with a righteous fire yet pull back just before it boils over. It all makes for an exciting debut, one to mark The Blinders as ones to watch.